White Sea & Franz Josef Land Voyage 7219 Day 5

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Day 5 - August 5, 2012 - Arkhangelsk, Russia 

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: N 64º31'42", E 040º32'17"
Weather: Sunny with scattered clouds
Air Temperature: 18ºC
Pressure: 1005 hPa
Wind: 5 knots

Today was my maiden visit to Russia. For a long time I had been looking forward to this day and it finally happened. Very exciting! I am actually glad to have seen Arkhangelsk first, before Moscow or St Petersburg, as those are more cosmopolitan and modern European cities. Beautiful I am sure, but different to the very authentic place that I saw today.

Arkhangelsk -with a population of almost 350.000- is an important city and the administrative centre of Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russia. It lies on both banks of the Northern Dvina River near its exit into the White Sea, in the north of European Russia. The city spreads for over 40 kilometres (25 mi) along the banks of the river and numerous islands of its delta.

Arkhangelsk was the chief seaport of medieval Russia. Today, Arkhangelsk remains a major seaport, now open year-round due to improvements in icebreakers, and the city is primarily a timber and fishing centre.

As the Silver Explorer sailed from the White Sea up the Dvina River this morning my excitement increased and when I came ashore I was not disappointed. It was exactly what I was expecting, the real Russia, with its history and legacy, with its run-down square buildings and its friendly people. Its many monuments, arts and old Soviet cars. Going out of town we enjoyed a green and very forested landscape. Add all that up to a balmy 18ºC and sunny conditions and there you have it. An incredible first day in Russia!

Once the ship was cleared we set out on three buses on our Arkhangelsk City Tour. First we had a couple stops in the downtown area and in Chumbarovka Street, where we had the opportunity to walk around a bit and see some of the main streets and monuments.

After having seen the statue of Peter the Great, we were taken to the old Merchant Yards, one of a series of 5 historical buildings. This particular one had been renovated and turned into a museum devoted to the history of Arkhangelsk city.

A very well put together museum I must add, including some interesting historical and religious pieces, plus meticulously elaborated models and dioramas of what life in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Arkhangelsk was like. It also boasted an impressive collection of artefacts belonging to Willem Barents’ last expedition, where the Dutch explorer met his fate in Novaya Zemlya in 1597.

We then went to an arts and crafts centre and souvenir shop, directly followed by a visit to the Lenin square and a visit to an orthodox church where they happened to be in the middle of a christening ceremony for about a dozen children. It was an interesting insight into the customs and traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church.

We then proceeded to the Museum of Fine Arts where we had a guided visit, led by the museum curator herself, who showed us around and explained the displays of mostly religious art pieces. Before leaving we went to the ground floor to see an amazing display of nature photographs that were competing for an international award. Undoubtedly some of the most spectacular photographs I have ever seen.

At around noontime the buses drove out of town, which allowed us to see some of the countryside on our way to the Museum of Wooden Architecture Malye Korely. We were welcomed by four cheerful Babushkas and an accordion player who, with songs and folk music, walked us into the complex. We danced and giggled trying to figure out what our hosts were saying as we danced in circles holding hands around them, and then we saw the houses and other wooden buildings, before enjoying tea and biscuits.

The drive back to the ship took us past the city’s embankment, and as soon as everybody was on board we sailed back down the Dvina River.

At 6:45 the Expedition Team held a Recap & Briefing, followed by dinner. What a great day. 

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